Anthills of the savannah. Character Analysis: Chris Oriko. Introduction to Chris. The Commissioner for Information, member of cabinet and believer of national reform, Christopher Oriko is one of the main characters in Chinua Achebe’s book “Anthills of the Savannah.”
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Character Analysis: Chris Oriko
The Commissioner for Information, member of cabinet and believer of national reform, Christopher Oriko is one of the main characters in Chinua Achebe’s book “Anthills of the Savannah.”
In the politically charged setting of the fictional African nation of Kangan, Chris’ character is a tool which enables readers to understand the situation of modern day Africa. The former editor of the National Gazette and educated at Lord Lugard College, Chris is symbolic of the colonial influence in Africa, the evolution of African society and Africa’s hope of genuine, veracious leaders.
Throughout the novel Chris’ character takes on a progressive, evolutionary role. From before the events narrated in the book Chris had already been established as a man of good character. Beatrice, speaking in Chapter 7, remembers Chris as a considerate and reserved person. He was also described as the middle of the two extremes of Ikem’s intellectualism and Sam’s socialite attitude. Many changes occur in him as progressing events reshape Chris as he struggles with the atmospheres of liberal extremism and total conformism due to fear and inaction.
In the opening six chapters of the novel, we can immediately see the changes in Chris after being thrust into a position of power. He has become more sarcastic and witty while holding a willful disdain of the top of the political spectrum. “Keep your mouth shut, for nothing is safe, not even the flattery we have become such experts in disguising as debate.” Chris has also become the opposing force in the story. He often contradicts with the views of Sam and admits his animosity towards the other members of cabinet for allowing the birth of a “baby monster.”
At this point in the story it is natural for Chris to have become this indifferent to politics. This is because he was thrust from the third person viewpoint of a writer into an actual position of power. He had become a part of the inefficient bureaucracy of corrupt politicians running the country on inaction. It is ironic that at this point Chris is in a position of power and yet he is powerless in stopping the exploitation of his people and powerless to change society for the better. This alienation, frustration and indifference towards politics has lead to a non-conformist attitude of constant opposition towards the members of cabinet and His Excellency.
In the latter parts of the book, Chris undergoes another metamorphosis. After Ikem’s death. Chris gains a new perception of the harsh realities of political and social life in Kangan. The people who are expected to be the guiding light of the country are the ones most susceptible to the allure of greater power and most of them are only considering personal gain. During his escape from his political enemies to Abazon, Chris experiences life as a common person and so regains a connection with his people and his country, an important factor that the current leaders have lost.
Towards the end of the book, during his death, in a moment of complete lucidity, Chris discerns that man has limited power and that their failure was the refusal to acknowledge that limitation. He is freed from the delusion of self perceived power. He also recognizes that life and power are like the little green bottles standing perilously on the wall, that can fall without notice.
Ikem is one of Chris’ closest friends, having known each other since their days in Lord Lugard College. However, as time went on their relationship took a downward spiral. We can see this in their arguments in the story. It seems their relationship started to become sour when Chris was promoted over Ikem because Ikem had always been the more intellectual character. Between the two of them, Chris is less idealistic and more willing to compromise. Beatrice even says that Chris is more reasonable, “damn too reasonable.” Even though they have drifted apart in some ways, their friendship remains intact. Chris often protects Ikem from the consequences of his crusading editorials and open calls for reform.
Together they attempt to make Sam understand that he is deluding himself with the image of omnipotent ruler. Chris also tries to prevent Ikem’s death by suggesting that he lay low for a while. Another sign of genuine concern for his friend. It is ironic that Ikem’s death came when Chris was no longer in a position to protect him despite Ikem saying that Sam wouldn’t be capable of having people killed.
Beatrice is Chris’ girlfriend. She is a well educated and good looking woman. In Chapter 8 Beatrice says that Chris was the one who did all the wooing. Chris naturally holds a special relationship with her and in Chapter 5 says that Beatrice is someone whom he holds dear to himself. He often talks about his love of her, her apparent innocence and being the priestess of the unknown God. Chris’ relationship with her is important as it gives us a third person view of Chris’ qualities. Beatrice describes Chris as being “damn too reasonable”, understanding, gentle, reserved and calm.
Friends ever since childhood, the two have since fallen out of favor with each other after the coup the deposed the former civilian government. Sam views Chris as a potential threat because he is resolute in serving the people and not serving his interests. Their relationship did not deteriorate until the failed memorandum for Sam to be President-for-life. Their relationship is important because it is what motivates Chris in reforming the country in order to avoid the disaster a dictator will bring. Their relationship is also what makes Chris realize the corrupting allure of power and weakness of the government.
Chris believes that their society glorifies and glamorizes the life of an Englishman too much and this has lead to the rift between the rich discriminating against the poor. Chris also believes in the difficulty of living as a common person. This viewpoint has been lost by many of the learned members of African society that they have lost touch with the common person. Chris is also a supporter of political reform having experienced first hand the inefficiency and corruption in the government.
Views on Society
Chris becomes a key indication of the way in which Achebe, despite his unflinching portrayal of violence and corruption in postcolonial Africa in Anthills, also indicates hope for a better future. Chris and Ikem'sresistance helps expose the hollowness of Sam's self-perception as an omnipotent ruler. He is a counter to the corruption and ruthless personal ambition that inform much of the postcolonial politics of Kangan. Chris is also the midpoint in which we see the differences of extreme liberalism in Ikem and conformism in the corrupt officials.
Chris is a representation of the influence of colonialization. He had been educated in a British school which is very much like the modern day African intellectuals choosing to study abroad. Chris is also a representation of the leaders Africa hopes for and needs. He was a leader who pursued the interest of the people (the Abazon plea) and not his own. Chris’ character is also used to symbolize the rift being formed between the new generation and its roots as young people become more focused on aloof idealism rather than staying down to earth and in touch with the everyday person.
Reflections on modern day Africa
"We wouldn't be so backward if we weren't so bent on remaining so...“
"To succeed as small man no be small thing.“
“Better to overrate your enemy than to underrate him."
“It is amazing how the intellectual envies the man of action.”
“…and particularly to keep your mouth shut, for nothing is safe, not even the flattery we have become such experts in disguising as debate.”